Even now, Champ Bailey still ready to learn

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
7:00
AM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Over the past 15 seasons, Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has picked up a thing or two or 5,021 about football life in pass coverage.

So that means he's also smart enough to take his own advice.

The guy who has told many rookies over the years to study, to get their heads in the playbook and to "ask questions when you don't know," has done just that himself.

The Broncos have returned the 12-time Pro Bowl selection to the lineup in a little different position than he left it.

"It felt good," Bailey said of his work in the slot during the Broncos' 37-13 victory over the Texans on Sunday. "... There were a lot of similarities, but it was a bit different. I like how we did it."

[+] EnlargeDenver's Champ Bailey
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesCornerback Champ Bailey played the nickel position for the Broncos against the Texans.
Bailey's season turned upside down when he injured his left foot in an August game in Seattle. Since then, Bailey has mostly watched from the sideline as the Broncos' season has rolled along, having been in the lineup just three times before the win in Houston. But when the Broncos have worked him back into the lineup, they have used him as a slot cornerback in their specialty packages, a job Chris Harris Jr. has done most of the time. With Bailey on the inside, the Broncos played Harris and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the outside against the Texans.

Bailey has played all over in his career, including in the slot as he has shadowed many of the league's best receivers, but he has far less experience in Jack Del Rio's defense in the slot's high-traffic area than Harris does.

So Bailey has lived up to his word and asked questions -- to a player 11 years younger and with a dozen fewer Pro Bowl appearances.

"You know, it's funny because I find myself asking him little things about coverages mostly," Bailey said. "Just what is he looking at, this and that. He's had so much time in there and he's been so good at it, I'd be a fool not to look at him and ask him a few things.”

Harris said: "Oh yeah, I mean, I know the position so well and I consider myself the best at it. So I definitely can give him some of my little tips at it."

Asked if it is a little odd for Bailey -- the player whom Harris has made it a point to shadow since he arrived as an undrafted rookie in 2011 -- to be the one asking the questions, Harris said: "Yeah, that is kind of funny now that I think about it, but it's a new position. He's always been outside. I've always been playing it in Jack's system, so I know it the best out of anybody. That's the reason why he comes to me."

Folks have asked Bailey plenty in recent seasons if he would eventually adjust where he played in the defense, if he would move from his traditional left cornerback spot to safety. Bailey has consistently responded that he is his own "harshest critic" and that if he looked at the game video at the end of a season and didn't see the performance he thought he should see, he would do "what makes sense for me to do." And that he "would just know it was time." Even if that meant a significant change.

As the Broncos try to find a way to get him back into the defense for a postseason run, all involved believe playing Bailey as the nickel corner makes sense, for a defense that needs some answers and for Bailey as well. It could help him limit his snaps and it gives the Broncos a player Del Rio has called "gifted, intelligent, just the ultimate pro" working in one of the most important positions on the field in today's pass-happy NFL.

It's a win-win, with plenty of three-wide receiver sets on the horizon as the Broncos work toward "playing in that last game of the season, the one everybody wants to be in," Bailey said.

"Right now it's what we do," he added. "That's what we're going to do right now. Moving forward we'll do what's best for our team that week. The good thing is it creates some versatility across the board because now I can go in; Chris can go back in there at any moment. It just depends on matchups and things like that, if we want to switch it up we could. ... But I liked it and that flexibility is big in our defense; we can do a lot of things a lot of different ways."

Jeff Legwold

ESPN Denver Broncos reporter

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